Doctor, Please — Some More of These

Getting old is a messy, messy business. This is the dark side of modern medical science. People who would once have expired after a few days or weeks of misery can now live on for years. At a certain point, what’s being extended is pretty much just the misery. You always hope for the best, but the best becomes more and more elusive.

Since bringing my mom home from the hospital on Sunday, I’ve been staying at her house to take care of various things — food, oxygen, assorted appointments, and making sure the medication regimen is set up. Mom is taking nine or ten different kinds of pills. She has a very nice day-by-day pill dispenser box with four separate compartments for each day, but we have now reached the point where four compartments are not enough. She takes pills at 7:00 AM, after breakfast, at 1:00 PM, after dinner, and at bedtime. And of course the eyedrops.

Mom is 88. Up until last week, she was able to live independently in her own home. She did her own shopping. Not only did she drive to the weekly card games with her friends, she provided taxi service to friends who are no longer able to drive.

Those days are over now. She’s still mentally alert (when she’s awake), but she’s not going to be driving any more. She’s getting up and down the hall to the bathroom with a walker, and moving very slowly indeed.

She’d like to continue living in her own home. Nobody likes the idea of moving to assisted living. It means loss of privacy, loss of control over your own schedule, loss of control over meals, and so on. Simply moving to a new domicile, when you’re that old, is bound to be very stressful. Giving up a lifetime’s worth of keepsakes will be traumatic. But I’ll be darned if I can see how to set up her living situation so she can stay at home. What if the oxygen hose gets tangled up?

It’s not possible for me to move back in with Mom to take care of her. For three reasons, really. First, it would drive me crazy and make me sick. Second, I’m not retired; I have ongoing obligations in several areas, so my time is limited and my need for office space is non-trivial. Third, and perhaps a little more selfishly, there’s a limit to how much of my time I’m willing to give up. I have no children of my own, so when I’m 88 nobody is going to be coming to live with me to make my life more comfortable. If I want to have a comfortable life, I need to do it now. I’m willing to do quite a lot to help get Mom settled in a viable living situation, but it’s not practical for me to create a viable living situation for her by sacrificing my own needs.

I’m telling this story not to elicit sympathy, but simply to let anyone else who might be in a similar situation know that they’re not alone.

Since both Mom and I are both atheists, I would prefer it if you didn’t say anything about keeping her in your prayers. You can pray for whatever you like, if it pleases you to do so, but saying anything about it would be unwelcome and intrusive.

Practical suggestions, however, would be more than welcome.

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2 Responses to Doctor, Please — Some More of These

  1. Ben Cressey says:

    A few thoughts. I have a number of trust and estate lawyers in the family, though I am not a lawyer and I have not discussed your situation with anyone who is. This is just what I’ve picked up from dinner conversation over the years.

    – You should have a durable power of attorney document prepared, empowering you to make financial and especially health care decisions on your mother’s behalf, should she become incapacitated or seriously ill. This is to ensure that you are always able to discuss your mother’s treatment with doctors, under any circumstance.

    – You should think about asking her to prepare a will. Even if the dispensations are obvious and estate taxes are not an issue, having a valid will can avoid a long and costly probate process.

    – The move to senior housing / elder care might be better if it comes sooner rather than later. The provider I am familiar with offered a fixed rate for the duration of the stay. So if your mother is still reasonably independent, she might find a spot at a lower rate now and wind up paying less in the event that she needs more full-time assistance down the road.

    Also, it’s easier to make a move like this when it’s her choice. I have heard of many cases where people were hospitalized after an incident and the doctors would not discharge them until they checked into assisted living. That can be very damaging on top of everything else.

    My wife’s grandmother went to a senior care facility five years ago and loved it. She always said it was just like being back in college. Obviously some of that was putting on a brave face but she did seem genuinely happy and more comfortable there.

  2. Conrad Cook says:

    Well, what we encouraged my grandma to do when she was crossing into being unable to take care of herself was to hire a Polish lady to take care of her. She didn’t need a nurse, but just someone to take basic care of her.

    In our case the woman we hired was Polish specifically because there’s a Polish community near the old home. And she was great. Spoke very little English, but chattered away in twice as much Polish to make up for it. We all thought she was great.

    –Now, there was one thing that did not go well. I didn’t have much to do with this, so I’m going entirely off family reports. And you know how unreliable those can be.

    But one issue was that certain of my family felt that this lady ended up being paid too much. It got to the point where my grandmother was sharp day to day, but not week to week; and every time she asked for a raise, my grandmother gave her one. A substantial one.

    So it was this odd situation where my family thought she was great, felt she did great work, adored her personally — and felt she was being paid double what fair wages would be. Which largely defeated the purpose of hiring an immigrant Polish lady.

    I have no idea. I don’t know what she was paid; I had nothing to do with that. I should say that the members of my family who felt that way had no resentment toward her as a person, and continued for years to be friends with her after my grandma finally went into a nursing home. So I gather it didn’t get too out of hand.

    Probably it would have been wiser for someone who wasn’t my grandmother to actually contract the woman. But, then again, my grandma might not have gone for that. She was the ornery independant type. Runs in the family.

    Best of luck, Jim, to you and your Mom.

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